Gold Nuggets: What's happening around the Pac-12 heading into Week 3
Welcome back a special edition Gold Nuggets, Saturday Out West columnist Jon Gold’s weekly trip around the Pac-12.
Read below for news, notes and quotes heading into Week 3 of the 2022 campaign.
Arizona: Wildcats looking to get Jacob Cowing back on track against Bisons
Arizona’s matchup on Saturday with North Dakota State is a fascinating case study. The Bisons have been the best FCS program for more than a half-decade, with half-dozen upsets of FBS schools in recent years. You’d think the Wildcats would have a talent advantage, but that may be negligible against one of the most successful programs in college football.
One place where Arizona will certainly have the edge is at wide receiver, where former UTEP star Jacob Cowing appeared to be settling in after huge Week 1. Cowing had 8 receptions for 152 yards and 3 scores in a 38-20 Arizona win over San Diego State, one of Week 1’s biggest surprises.
In a much tougher Week 2 matchup against Mississippi State, one of the SEC’s best teams, Cowing was not quite as productive. Worse, he had a case of the drops, biffing 3 pass attempts from quarterback Jayden de Laura.
Getting Cowing back on track is a big priority for the Wildcats against NDSU.
“There was a couple of drops were unfortunate, the timing,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said at his weekly press conference. “I don’t know necessarily why. He doesn’t drop the ball. I’m not worried about Jacob dropping the ball. So we just have to move past it and chalk it up as an anomaly.”
Arizona State: Sun Devils’ pass defense taking a hands-on approach, for good or bad
After largely avoiding penalties in a season-opening 40-3 win against Northern Arizona, the Arizona State defense got a bit handsy in its 34-17 loss at No. 11 Oklahoma State on Saturday.
ASU had 10 penalties for 95 yards, but worse, 8 came on defense and during competitive situations.
Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards signaled out the defensive scheme for causing some of the issues but acknowledged they need to be cleaned up.
“Playing a lot of man coverage on some really talented players, I mean, you’re going to get a couple fouls, that’s the nature when you play man-to-man,” Edwards told reporters, according to the Arizona Republic’s Michelle Gardner. “They’re pushing, we’re shoving, they’re pushing. It just goes back and forth, and it just does, it’s football. You see it at any level when you play tight coverage like that. You can live with some of those. The problem is it was some of the fouls were at the wrong time. It wasn’t intentional, but at the wrong time where you need to stall a drive out on offense, the ones we had, or defensively, kept a drive alive and you can’t give a team like we just played second chances.”
ASU defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson was slightly less diplomatic when asked about the penalties.
Or is it losses?
You’d always rather find a team down rather than up, and with Cal undefeated and Notre Dame winless, the script has flipped on preseason expectations for the game. The Fighting Irish entered the season ranked No. 5 in the country while Cal came in at 5-7. Now the Bears have a chance to beat Notre Dame for the first in history.
Because now the Fighting Irish are hurting in more ways than one.
Starting quarterback Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder sprain in Saturday’s 26-21 loss to Marshall, forcing backup Drew Pyne into action this Saturday against the Bears in South Bend. Talk about adding injury to insult.
Pyne replaced Buchner in the fourth quarter on Saturday and went 3-for-6 for 20 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Buchner hadn’t fared much better against the Thundering Herd, going 18-for-32 for 201 yards with 2 interceptions against Marshall, with 44 rushing yards and 2 TDs.
“The major difference is probably the straight-line speed. Tyler Buchner is a 4.5 guy,” Freeman said. “Drew is athletic, but he’s not straight-line as fast as Tyler.”
Cal doesn’t catch Notre Dame at a fragile time, they catch the Fighting Irish in an offensive transition — going from the dual-threat Buchner to the more stationary Pyne gives the Bears a chance to catch Notre Dame flat-footed.
Colorado: Buffaloes still looking for their man under center
The Colorado passing attack still hasn’t gotten off the ground through 2 weeks, and as a result, the starting quarterback position remains unsettled, reports Brian Howell of BuffZone.com.
Head coach Karl Dorrell is in full damage-control mode, with quarterbacks JT Shrout and Brendon Lewis combining for 286 passing yards on 31-of-62 passing with 1 touchdown and 1 interception in 2 weeks. Shrout (40.9 percent) and Lewis (72.2) have combined to connect on 50 percent of their attempts for an average of just 4.6 yards per pass.
Lewis, who started all year for the Buffs last season, rotated with Shrout against TCU in a 38-13 loss but was ineffective. Shrout played against the Horned Frogs as well, then played the entirety of the Buffaloes’ 41-10 loss at Air Force.
“We just don’t feel that there’s any separation,” Dorrell told reporters on Monday. “We feel like this is a really important week to really press them both about who wants this job? I think that’s more of our attitude. They’ve both had a chance to lead the offense. They both had some inconsistencies. Now it’s, ‘OK, let’s go on to this week and it’s a competition.’ We’ve got to get better. They both have some things to shore up, so we really want to get back on the grass and get going and then make some type of determination later in the week.”
Oregon: Justin Flowe banged up again for Ducks
It’s fair to say that the Justin Flowe era has not really taken flight for the Ducks.
One of the top recruits in program history, the talented linebacker played just 1 game as a freshman and 1 game as a sophomore before season-ending injuries kicked in both seasons.
Just making it to Game 2 was quite an accomplishment for Flowe, who had 10 tackles in the Ducks’ season-opening 49-3 loss to Georgia in Atlanta.
Will he make it any further?
Well, Flowe was reportedly absent for Oregon’s Tuesday practice, which is never a good sign about someone playing that week.
Oregon State: Bold calls bode well for Beavers
A college football team is only as bold as its coaches, and two gutsy calls in Oregon State’s 35-32 Week 2 win over Fresno State.
The first one is obvious: Rather than go for the tie with just seconds left on the clock, Smith went for the win, calling a Wildcat run by Jack Colletto instead of a field goal. We all know what happened next — Colletto ran it in to give the Beavers a second straight win over a formidable Mountain West opponent.
But Smith’s stealthy call came minutes after another by defensive coordinator Trent Bray.
With 90 seconds left, Oregon State led 29-26 but Fresno State had the ball and was driving. A sustained drive would’ve killed the Beavers’ chances for a go-ahead drive. On 2nd-and-7, Bray called for a 6-man blitz, leaving the defensive backfield on its own. That didn’t work out so well: Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener completed a 45-yard pass inside the 10-yard line, and they’d score just two plays later.
“Did I love that they scored, no. But I loved the call by Trent, understanding where the game was at and forcing the issue at that point to save us the time,” Smith told the Albany Democrat-Herald’s Les Gehrett.
The best thing about the call was the calculated decision-making. Best-case scenario, a sack that puts Fresno State out of field-goal range. Worst-case, the Bulldogs score, and the Beavers still have a chance to tie it or win. Ultimately Chance Nolan marched the team down for the game-deciding score.
“Look, you can kick this field goal, the best thing you can do is tie the game. You still have a chance to lose it,” Smith said.
Stanford: Cardinal need to spend bye week working on long game
Facing a USC defense long on talent but short on patience on Saturday, Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee could not connect on the long ball in a 41-28 loss.
McKee’s longest completion went for just 23 yards and he went just 20-of-35 passing for 220 yards and 2 interceptions, with 1 touchdown, in the loss.
In Week 1, McKee delivered a 53-yard bomb to John Humphreys as part of a 308-yard day in a 41-10 win over Colgate. He also completed two 30-yard passes and another 26-yarder.
Last year, McKee connected on passes of 56, 49 (twice) and 45 yards, after ringing off one 46-yard bomb in his lone appearance as a freshman in 2020 against Oregon.
If the Cardinal are going to have any luck this year, they’ll need to dedicate themselves to the deep ball.
UCLA: Bruins bid for Big Ten gets more scrutiny next week
UCLA’s drawn-out goodbye from the Pac-12 takes another turn next week, as The Mercury News’ Jon Wilner is reporting that “the University of California’s Board of Regents will discuss the situation in a closed session on Sept. 22 at 10 a.m., according to the agenda item posted on the regents’ website: ‘UCLA Big Ten Membership – Potential Legal Issues and Financial Impacts.'”
The Bruins’ defection the Big Ten has not been without its detractors, including California Governor Gavin Newsome and others on the board of regents. They mainly have raised issues about the process, not so much UCLA leaving, though there may be financial implications for the Bruins’ athletic department.
“For this particular matter, the regents could say ‘We want to act and therefore we do not want the (UC) president or the (campus) chancellors to act in this area,’ and simply assert that,” general counsel Charles Robinson said.
USC: Courtland Ford’s injury a big one for Trojans … but they’ve got backups
The USC offensive line might have suffered a big blow in the second half of its 41-28 win at Stanford on Saturday.
Luckily, the Trojans prepared for moments just like this.
Starting left tackle Courtland Ford injured his right ankle, requiring evaluation in the medical tent and eventually heavy icing and bandaging after the game.
The Los Angeles Times’ Ryan Kartje reported that Ford was absent at practice Tuesday, but clarified that he was present but not dressed out.
USC LT Courtland Ford (ankle) wasn’t at practice today. Riley said he would rest to start the week and will be reevaluated in the coming days.
— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) September 13, 2022
Ford’s potential absence may be mitigated by the arrival of former Virginia offensive lineman and 2021 ACC honorable mention selection Bobby Haskins, who rotated with Ford throughout fall camp and gained valuable experience. While Ford has played the lion’s share of the first 2 weeks, the Trojans are comfortable with Haskins, as well.
Utah: Utes hope fumble-itis is short-lived for Tavion Thomas
Early last season, the football was covered in Crisco for Utah running back Tavion Thomas. Thomas had fumbles in Week 1 against Weber State and Week 2 against BYU, getting a stern talking-to from the Utah coaching staff. By and large, those issues went away, and Thomas went on to have a sensation season, becoming a first-ream all-conference selection after rushing 204 times for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns.
On Saturday against overmatched Southern Utah, Thomas’ ball security issues came to the forefront again as he fumbled on 1st-and-10 from the Utah 16-yard line in the first quarter, leading to SUU’s lone score of the game and drawing the ire of head coach Kyle Whittingham.
“I always worry about turnovers,” Whittingham told reporters. “That’s something that plagued him last year early in the season. He got it corrected and now it’s shown up this season a couple of times. We’ve got to continue to work on it and emphasize it. It’s important to him. I know that. He’s not being reckless and loose with the ball in practice. He’s always focused on it. There are lapses in games where it gets a little loose and we have to fix that.”
And if it doesn’t?
“If it becomes habitual, and we can’t get it corrected, then we’ll have to take that measure,” he said of potentially benching Thomas. “But right now, we’re just working toward improving his ball security every day in practice. He did go a long stretch during the season last year after early problems securing the ball. We hope to get back to that.”
Washington: Jaxson Kirkland expected to make debut … again
Washington’s 2-time all-conference selection Jaxson Kirkland has had one hellish 2022 so far. An ankle injury that got progressively worse last year ultimately required surgery, which knocked him out of the 2022 NFL Draft process. So he returned to college, only to be told he’d have to sit out the first game … which ultimately didn’t matter, because he’s not at full strength yet physically and was forced to sit out both Week 1 against Kent State and Week 2 against Portland State.
He was supposed to play against Portland State but ultimately was sidelined once again, and now the Huskies once more are saying they expect Kirkland to be back for Saturday’s huge test against Michigan State.
“We’re just following the medical advice and listening to those guys. I know Jaxson is itching to get out there,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb told reporters. “Again, making progress every day. He had another good practice out there even yesterday. Looked really good on the field, so just trying to make sure we don’t have any setbacks. That’s the biggest thing. You come back one week too early and then you set him back for two or three weeks. That would not be optimal, obviously, so we’re just trying to make sure we follow the medical advice and push him as far as we can go.”
Washington State: Jake Dickert unsatisfied despite upset win
Washington State has spent the past decade having to outgun its toughest opponents to stand any chance of winning.
In 2018, the Cougars needed to put up 41 points in a 3-point win at No. 24 Stanford. The year prior, they scored 30 in a 3-point win over No. 5 USC, and in 2016, Washington State beat the No. 15 Cardinal, 42-16, in Palo Alto.
Saturday’s win at No. 19 Wisconsin was an altogether new experience for the Cougars, who won 17-14.
This one took grit. It took strength.
But even so, Washington State head coach Jake Dickert was unsatisfied with the offensive output against the Badgers, though he lauded his team’s ability to work the clock in the game’s final minutes.
“That is, again, going to be one of the best defenses in the country,” Dickert told the Spokesman-Review’s Colton Clark. “I don’t think you can always measure success by scoring a ton of points. Yes, we want to be better. Yes, we need to be cleaner. Yes, we need to execute and not turn the ball over. … But at the same time, to run five and a half minutes off the clock the way they did, in that environment, it’s impressive.”